How to cite an article: Quick tips on Vancouver and Harvard styles in citations

Reading time
5 mins
How to cite an article: Quick tips on Vancouver and Harvard styles in citations

When writing a research paper, you mention, or cite, papers written by other researchers. For example, instead of describing in detail the method you used, you simply provide a reference to a paper that offers the required description in detail; when you make a claim, you need to support it by citing publications. But how exactly do you cite, or refer to, another paper? Different journals handle citations in text differently and the differences are often trivial, but authors are expected to observe these differences and adhere to the guidelines of the journal they are submitting their papers to. Two of the most popularly used styles of citation in research papers are Vancouver style and Harvard style. This article focuses on these styles and provides tips on getting them right.

A source – a research paper in this example – can be referred to or cited either by giving it a number (Fig. 1) or by mentioning its author(s) and the year in which the paper was published (Fig. 2). The first method, which typically uses numbers set as superscripts, is known as the Vancouver style, whereas the second method is known as the Harvard style.

Default Alt text

Fig. 1 Citation in the form of a superscript number (Vancouver style)

Default Alt text




Fig. 2 Citation in the form of the authors’ names and the year of publication (Harvard style)

How to cite articles in Vancouver style

As mentioned above, you can number each citation serially, in the order in which sources are mentioned in the text. If the same source is mentioned later in the paper, the number assigned to the source does not change. The exact form of citation can differ from one journal to another, which is why you should observe the following details.

1. The position of the number: The number, usually a superscript, may be placed after a full stop (period), as in Fig. 1, or before it (the style followed in the journal Current Science, for example; Fig. 3).

Default Alt text

Fig. 3 Citation number as superscript placed before the closing punctuation.

2. The form of the number: Some journals set the numbers not as superscripts but in their normal position (Fig. 4) within the line of text (referred to as ‘in line’). The number may also be in italics (the weekly journal Science, for example, uses italics for citation numbers, as can be seen in Fig. 4).

Default Alt text

Fig. 4 Citation numbers ‘in line’ and not as superscripts.

3. Brackets, if any: When citation numbers are placed in line, they are enclosed within brackets; however, some journals (Science, for example) use parentheses or round brackets for the purpose whereas some, for example those that follow the IEEE citation style (primarily in electronics, engineering, telecommunications, computer science, and information technology) and Remote Sensing use square brackets (Fig. 5).

Default Alt textFig. 5 Citation numbers ‘in line’ and within square brackets

How to cite articles in Harvard style

Mentioning the names of authors along with the year of publication also involves some variations in style, as noted below.

1. Punctuation: Some journals separate the name and the year with a comma (as in Fig. 2), whereas some journals insert only a space in between (Fig. 6). If two or more citations are given together, the usual practice is to separate one citation from the next with a semicolon. It does not matter whether, within each citation, the two items of information – names of authors and the year of publication – are separated by a space or by a comma.

 Default Alt text

Fig. 6 Space, not comma, between the name and the year of publication

Default Alt text




Fig. 7 Multiple citations arranged chronologically

Default Alt text


Fig. 8 Multiple citations arranged alphabetically

2. Sequence in multiple citations: Some journals arrange multiple citations that are given together alphabetically by the author (Fig. 7); some journals arrange them chronologically (Fig. 8); and some use arrange them in reverse chronological order, with the most recently published source listed first in the sequence.

3. No. of names before et al.: Most research papers these days have multiple authors. If a paper has up to three authors, most journals will list them all each time the paper is cited, whereas papers with four or more authors are usually cited giving the name of only the first author followed by the abbreviation et al. (Latin for ‘and others’). This threshold or cut-off also varies with the journal; some journals, for example, use the name of the first author followed by et al. to cite papers with six or more authors. Some journals (the Journal of Food Science, for example) prefer ‘and others’ to ‘et al.’

4. Italics for et al.: Because ‘et al.’ is a Latin expression, some journals set it in italics, but some journals prefer to set it normally.

5. Ampersand: In citations given in the Harvard style, sometimes the year alone is enclosed within brackets, as in ‘Gunjate and Smith (2009) observed that productivity of orchards is low when the plants are planted too far apart’; if the names of authors also appear within brackets, some journals replace the conjunction ‘and’ with its symbol, namely &, or the ampersand, as in ‘The productivity of orchards is low when the plants are planted too far apart (Gunjate & Smith 2009)’ (Figure 9).

Default Alt text

Fig. 9 Names joined by the ampersand (&) when within brackets and by ‘and’ when outside brackets 

Each citation in text is matched by a corresponding reference in the list of references that appears at the end of a paper. All the details of the paper (in addition to the authors and the year of publication) are given in such a reference.

Related reading:

What is an author's responsibility while citing sources?

Using "et al." for in-text citations in research papers

APA Style cheat sheet: How to cite a journal article using APA Style

Be the first to clap

for this article

Published on: Feb 05, 2018

Communicator, Published Author, BELS-certified editor with Diplomate status.
See more from Yateendra Joshi


You're looking to give wings to your academic career and publication journey. We like that!

Why don't we give you complete access! Create a free account and get unlimited access to all resources & a vibrant researcher community.

One click sign-in with your social accounts

1536 visitors saw this today and 1210 signed up.